Once upon a time . . . . . from
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The Porter's Son - Part 2
''Tis like Paradise here,' said the General's lady, 'and
yonder you have a knight's castle!'
'That's my poultry-house,' observed the Count. 'The
pigeons live in the tower, the turkeys in the first floor, but
old Elsie rules in the ground floor. She has apartments on all
sides of her. The sitting hens have their own room, and the
hens with chickens have theirs; and the ducks have their own
particular door leading to the water.'
'Charming!' repeated the General.
And all sailed forth to see these wonderful things. Old
Elsie stood in the room on the ground floor, and by her side
stood Architect George. He and Emily now met for the first
time after several years, and they met in the poultry-house.
Yes, there he stood, and was handsome enough to be looked
at. His face was frank and energetic; he had black shining
hair, and a smile about his mouth, which said, 'I have a
brownie that sits in my ear, and knows every one of you,
inside and out.' Old Elsie had pulled off her wooden shoes,
and stood there in her stockings, to do honor to the noble
guests. The hens clucked, and the cocks crowed, and the ducks
waddled to and fro, and said, 'Quack, quack!' But the fair,
pale girl, the friend of his childhood, the daughter of the
General, stood there with a rosy blush on her usually pale
cheeks, and her eyes opened wide, and her mouth seemed to
speak without uttering a word, and the greeting he received
from her was the most beautiful greeting a young man can
desire from a young lady, if they are not related, or have not
danced many times together, and she and the architect had
never danced together.
The Count shook hands with him, and introduced him.
'He is not altogether a stranger, our young friend
The General's lady bowed to him, and the General's
daughter was very nearly giving him her hand; but she did not
give it to him.
'Our little Master George!' said the General. 'Old
'You have become quite an Italian,' said the General's
lady, 'and I presume you speak the language like a native?'
'My wife sings the language, but she does not speak it,'
observed the General.
At dinner, George sat at the right hand of Emily, whom the
General had taken down, while the Count led in the General's
Mr. George talked and told of his travels; and he could
talk well, and was the life and soul of the table, though the
old Count could have been it too. Emily sat silent, but she
listened, and her eyes gleamed, but she said nothing.
In the verandah, among the flowers, she and George stood
together; the rose-bushes concealed them. And George was
speaking again, for he took the lead now.
'Many thanks for the kind consideration you showed my old
mother,' he said. 'I know that you went down to her on the
night when my father died, and you stayed with her till his
eyes were closed. My heartiest thanks!'
He took Emily's hand and kissed it- he might do so on such
an occasion. She blushed deeply, but pressed his hand, and
looked at him with her dear blue eyes.
'Your mother was a dear soul!' she said. 'How fond she was
of her son! And she let me read all your letters, so that I
almost believe I know you. How kind you were to me when I was
little girl! You used to give me pictures.'
'Which you tore in two,' said George.
'No, I have still your drawing of the castle.'
'I must build the castle in reality now,' said George; and
he became quite warm at his own words.
The General and the General's lady talked to each other in
their room about the porter's son- how he knew how to behave,
and to express himself with the greatest propriety.
'He might be a tutor,' said the General.
'Intellect!' said the General's lady; but she did not say
During the beautiful summer-time Mr. George several times
visited the Count at his castle; and he was missed when he did
'How much the good God has given you that he has not given
to us poor mortals,' said Emily to him. 'Are you sure you are
very grateful for it?'
It flattered George that the lovely young girl should look
up to him, and he thought then that Emily had unusually good
abilities. And the General felt more and more convinced that
George was no cellar-child.
'His mother was a very good woman,' he observed. 'It is
only right I should do her that justice now she is in her
The summer passed away, and the winter came; again there
was talk about Mr. George. He was highly respected, and was
received in the first circles. The General had met him at a
And now there was a ball to be given in the General's
house for Emily, and could Mr. George be invited to it?
'He whom the King invites can be invited by the General
also,' said the General, and drew himself up till he stood
quite an inch higher than before.
Mr. George was invited, and he came; princes and counts
came, and they danced, one better than the other. But Emily
could only dance one dance- the first; for she made a false
step- nothing of consequence; but her foot hurt her, so that
she had to be careful, and leave off dancing, and look at the
others. So she sat and looked on, and the architect stood by
'I suppose you are giving her the whole history of St.
Peter's,' said the General, as he passed by; and smiled, like
the personification of patronage.
With the same patronizing smile he received Mr. George a
few days afterwards. The young man came, no doubt, to return
thanks for the invitation to the ball. What else could it be?
But indeed there was something else, something very
astonishing and startling. He spoke words of sheer lunacy, so
that the General could hardly believe his own ears. It was
'the height of rhodomontade,' an offer, quite an inconceivable
offer- Mr. George came to ask the hand of Emily in marriage!
'Man!' cried the General, and his brain seemed to be
boiling. 'I don't understand you at all. What is it you say?
What is it you want? I don't know you. Sir! Man! What
possesses you to break into my house? And am I to stand here
and listen to you?' He stepped backwards into his bed-room,
locked the door behind him, and left Mr. George standing
alone. George stood still for a few minutes, and then turned
round and left the room. Emily was standing in the corridor.
'My father has answered?' she said, and her voice
George pressed her hand.
'He has escaped me,' he replied; 'but a better time will
There were tears in Emily's eyes, but in the young man's
eyes shone courage and confidence; and the sun shone through
the window, and cast his beams on the pair, and gave them his
The General sat in his room, bursting hot. Yes, he was
still boiling, until he boiled over in the exclamation,
'Lunacy! porter! madness!'
Not an hour was over before the General's lady knew it out
of the General's own mouth. She called Emily, and remained
alone with her.
'You poor child,' she said; 'to insult you so! to insult
us so! There are tears in your eyes, too, but they become you
well. You look beautiful in tears. You look as I looked on my
wedding-day. Weep on, my sweet Emily.'
'Yes, that I must,' said Emily, 'if you and my father do
not say 'yes.''
'Child!' screamed the General's lady; 'you are ill! You
are talking wildly, and I shall have a most terrible headache!
Oh, what a misfortune is coming upon our house! Don't make
your mother die, Emily, or you will have no mother.'
And the eyes of the General's lady were wet, for she could
not bear to think of her own death.
In the newspapers there was an announcement. 'Mr. George
has been elected Professor of the Fifth Class, number Eight.'
'It's a pity that his parents are dead and cannot read
it,' said the new porter people, who now lived in the cellar
under the General's apartments. They knew that the Professor
had been born and grown up within their four walls.
'Now he'll get a salary,' said the man.
'Yes, that's not much for a poor child,' said the woman.
'Eighteen dollars a year,' said the man. 'Why, it's a good
deal of money.'
'No, I mean the honor of it,' replied the wife. 'Do you
think he cares for the money? Those few dollars he can earn a
hundred times over, and most likely he'll get a rich wife into
the bargain. If we had children of our own, husband, our child
should be an architect and a professor too.'
George was spoken well of in the cellar, and he was spoken
well of in the first floor. The old Count took upon himself to
The pictures he had drawn in his childhood gave occasion
for it. But how did the conversation come to turn on these
pictures? Why, they had been talking of Russia and of Moscow,
and thus mention was made of the Kremlin, which little George
had once drawn for Miss Emily. He had drawn many pictures, but
the Count especially remembered one, 'Emily's Castle,' where
she was to sleep, and to dance, and to play at receiving
'The Professor was a true man,' said the Count, 'and would
be a privy councillor before he died, it was not at all
unlikely; and he might build a real castle for the young lady
before that time came: why not?'
'That was a strange jest,' remarked the General's lady,
when the Count had gone away. The General shook his head
thoughtfully, and went out for a ride, with his groom behind
him at a proper distance, and he sat more stiffly than ever on
his high horse.
It was Emily's birthday. Flowers, books, letters, and
visiting cards came pouring in. The General's lady kissed her
on the mouth, and the General kissed her on the forehead; they
were affectionate parents, and they and Emily had to receive
grand visitors, two of the Princes. They talked of balls and
theatres, of diplomatic missions, of the government of empires
and nations; and then they spoke of talent, native talent; and
so the discourse turned upon the young architect.
'He is building up an immortality for himself,' said one,
'and he will certainly build his way into one of our first
'One of our first families!' repeated the General and
afterwards the General's lady; 'what is meant by one of our
'I know for whom it was intended,' said the General's
lady, 'but I shall not say it. I don't think it. Heaven
disposes, but I shall be astonished.'
'I am astonished also!' said the General. 'I haven't an
idea in my head!' And he fell into a reverie, waiting for
There is a power, a nameless power, in the possession of
favor from above, the favor of Providence, and this favor
little George had. But we are forgetting the birthday.
Emily's room was fragrant with flowers, sent by male and
female friends; on the table lay beautiful presents for
greeting and remembrance, but none could come from George-
none could come from him; but it was not necessary, for the
whole house was full of remembrances of him. Even out of the
ash-bin the blossom of memory peeped forth, for Emily had sat
whimpering there on the day when the window-curtain caught
fire, and George arrived in the character of fire engine. A
glance out of the window, and the acacia tree reminded of the
days of childhood. Flowers and leaves had fallen, but there
stood the tree covered with hoar frost, looking like a single
huge branch of coral, and the moon shone clear and large among
the twigs, unchanged in its changings, as it was when George
divided his bread and butter with little Emily.
Out of a box the girl took the drawings of the Czar's
palace and of her own castle- remembrances of George. The
drawings were looked at, and many thoughts came. She
remembered the day when, unobserved by her father and mother,
she had gone down to the porter's wife who lay dying. Once
again she seemed to sit beside her, holding the dying woman's
hand in hers, hearing the dying woman's last words: 'Blessing
George!' The mother was thinking of her son, and now Emily
gave her own interpretation to those words. Yes, George was
certainly with her on her birthday.
It happened that the next day was another birthday in that
house, the General's birthday. He had been born the day after
his daughter, but before her of course- many years before her.
Many presents arrived, and among them came a saddle of
exquisite workmanship, a comfortable and costly saddle- one of
the Princes had just such another. Now, from whom might this
saddle come? The General was delighted. There was a little
note with the saddle. Now if the words on the note had been
'many thanks for yesterday's reception,' we might easily have
guessed from whom it came. But the words were 'From somebody
whom the General does not know.'
'Whom in the world do I not know?' exclaimed the General.
'I know everybody;' and his thoughts wandered all through
society, for he knew everybody there. 'That saddle comes from
my wife!' he said at last. 'She is teasing me- charming!'
But she was not teasing him; those times were past.
Again there was a feast, but it was not in the General's
house, it was a fancy ball at the Prince's, and masks were
The General went as Rubens, in a Spanish costume, with a
little ruff round his neck, a sword by his side, and a stately
manner. The General's lady was Madame Rubens, in black velvet
made high round the neck, exceedingly warm, and with a
mill-stone round her neck in the shape of a great ruff-
accurately dressed after a Dutch picture in the possession of
the General, in which the hands were especially admired. They
were just like the hands of the General's lady.
Emily was Psyche. In white crape and lace she was like a
floating swan. She did not want wings at all. She only wore
them as emblematic of Psyche.
Brightness, splendor, light and flowers, wealth and taste
appeared at the ball; there was so much to see, that the
beautiful hands of Madame Rubens made no sensation at all.
A black domino, with an acacia blossom in his cap, danced
'Who is that?' asked the General's lady.
'His Royal Highness,' replied the General. 'I am quite
sure of it. I knew him directly by the pressure of his hand.'
The General's lady doubted it.
General Rubens had no doubts about it. He went up to the
black domino and wrote the royal letters in the mask's hand.
These were denied, but the mask gave him a hint.
The words that came with the saddle: 'One whom you do not
'But I do know you,' said the General. 'It was you who
sent me the saddle.'
The domino raised his hand, and disappeared among the
'Who is that black domino with whom you were dancing,
Emily?' asked the General's lady.
'I did not ask his name,' she replied, 'because you knew
it. It is the Professor. Your protege is here, Count!' she
continued, turning to that nobleman, who stood close by. 'A
black domino with acacia blossoms in his cap.'
'Very likely, my dear lady,' replied the Count. 'But one
of the Princes wears just the same costume.'
'I knew the pressure of the hand,' said the General. 'The
saddle came from the Prince. I am so certain of it that I
could invite that domino to dinner.'
'Do so. If it be the Prince he will certainly come,'
replied the Count.
'And if it is the other he will not come,' said the
General, and approached the black domino, who was just
speaking with the King. The General gave a very respectful
invitation 'that they might make each other's acquaintance,'
and he smiled in his certainty concerning the person he was
inviting. He spoke loud and distinctly.
The domino raised his mask, and it was George. 'Do you
repeat your invitation, General?' he asked.
The General certainly seemed to grow an inch taller,
assumed a more stately demeanor, and took two steps backward
and one step forward, as if he were dancing a minuet, and then
came as much gravity and expression into the face of the
General as the General could contrive to infuse into it; but
'I never retract my words! You are invited, Professor!'
and he bowed with a glance at the King, who must have heard
the whole dialogue.
Now, there was a company to dinner at the General's, but
only the old Count and his protege were invited.
'I have my foot under his table,' thought George. 'That's
laying the foundation stone.'
And the foundation stone was really laid, with great
ceremony, at the house of the General and of the General's
The man had come, and had spoken quite like a person in
good society, and had made himself very agreeable, so that the
General had often to repeat his 'Charming!' The General talked
of this dinner, talked of it even to a court lady; and this
lady, one of the most intellectual persons about the court,
asked to be invited to meet the Professor the next time he
should come. So he had to be invited again; and he was
invited, and came, and was charming again; he could even play
'He's not out of the cellar,' said the General; 'he's
quite a distinguished person. There are many distinguished
persons of that kind, and it's no fault of his.'
The Professor, who was received in the King's palace,
might very well be received by the General; but that he could
ever belong to the house was out of the question, only the
whole town was talking of it.
He grew and grew. The dew of favor fell from above, so no
one was surprised after all that he should become a Privy
Councillor, and Emily a Privy Councillor's lady.
'Life is either a tragedy or a comedy,' said the General.
'In tragedies they die, in comedies they marry one another.'
In this case they married. And they had three clever boys-
but not all at once.
The sweet children rode on their hobby-horses through all
the rooms when they came to see the grandparents. And the
General also rode on his stick; he rode behind them in the
character of groom to the little Privy Councillors.
And the General's lady sat on her sofa and smiled at them,
even when she had her severest headache.
So far did George get, and much further; else it had not
worth while to tell the story of THE PORTER'S SON.
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